0. 1 The Ibibio-Speaking People and Classification
of the Ibibio Language.
The Ibibio of Akwa Ibom State constitute the fourth largest
ethnic group in Nigeria, after the three major ones - Hausa,
Igbo and Yoruba. They number about four million, speak
Ibibio as their mother tongue and inhabit much of the South-
eastern part of the country. Among the four million speakers
are small groups speaking small 'languages* identified a$
Ito, Itu Mbon Uso, Iwere, Nkari and Ukwa (cf. Essien
1987:34). Speakers of these small 'languages' claim that
ethnically, they are Ibibio and that their 'languages^ are
mutually inrelUgible to one another, though the other ibibio
speakers hardly understand them. In addition to these small
groups of Ibibio speakers, there are other groups of people
like the Oron, Okobo and Annang, who though speaking
variants of Ibibio claim that ethnically they are not Ibibio.
Together with the Ibeno speaking people, they constitute
about one miUion and speak Ibibio as a second language.
Since these other languages, including Obolo (or Andoni)
also spoken in the Rivers State, and Ibibio belong to one
group of languages known as Lower Cross, as we shall see
presently, we might as well refer to the Lower Cross
languages as Ibibiod languages just as Lower Niger languages
are referred to as Igboid languages. Ibibio is also spoken in
many parts of the Cross River State, particularly Calabar,
Odukpani and Akamkpa Local Government Areas.
Genetically, the Ibibio language belongs to the Benue-
Congo sub-family which in turn belongs to the Niger-Congo
family, one of the largest families of knguages in Africa,
according to Greenberg's (1963) classification. Still, under
this genetic classification^ Ibibio belongs to the Lower Cross
group, a group of closely related languages to which Efik and
Annang, with which Ibibio forms a cluster of dialects, also
belong, and to which we refer as Ibibiod, as already pointed
out above. In a new classification of African languages cur-
rently being proposed by Professor Kay Williamson and
others working on the Niger-Congo languages, Ibibio will
belong to the enlarged New Benue-Congo.
0.2 Historical Development of the Ibibio Language.
The Ibibio language is old as the people themselves, dating
back centuries ago. However, its history as a written language
is very recent. Although Ibibio was actually written only in
1983, the attempts to write and develop the language go back
as far as to the time Efik itself was about to be written in the
last century (between 1846 and 1862, when Hugh Goldie's
Dictionary of the Efik Language was published). For accor-
ding to Jeffreys (1935:106), the first attempt to write Ibibio
was defeated by only two votes, as the quotation below
At the Language Conference held in Calabar the motion
to impose the Efik dialect on the Ibibio race was carried
by two votes and then, only because two members
refrained from voting.
That defeat of Ibibio or victory for Efik has made all the
difference, for the Efik dialect was to be imposed on the
Ibibio race by the early missionaries to this part of the world
whose efforts were directed towards the development of Efik,
as pointed out by Jeffreys (1935:2)
The missionaries naturally directed their first studies to
the Efik language with the result that the Efik have
benefitted enormously and their language has inevitably
assumed a position that is not justified either upon
population or linguistic basis.
In spite of the initial -set-back for Ibibio, Jeffreys, a one
time District Officer of Nigeria, produced an orthography for
the Ibibio language and made a passionate plea to the
missionary and other authorities that Ibibio be used officially
side by side with Efik for mutual benefits (cf. Jeffreys
1935:103). But this orthography was rejected and the attempt
to make Ibibio an official language failed, as evidenced in
Two quotations from Rev. E. Smith -s **Shrine of a
People^s Soul* * have a direct bearing on the situation.
"Every language is a temple in which the soul of the
people who speak it is enshrined*' and the other is
**some authorities believe that a million, others five
million would constitute the minimum unit for a verna-
cular literature*'. Yet in Vol. II, No. 4 of the quarterly,
VAfrica'% it is recommended that Efik, the dialect of
about 30,000 persons of mixed descent, be forced on
650,000 pure Ibibio. The recommendation to destroy
the shrine of a people's soul is done in words that
suggest it is with their consent and approval.
Consequent upon this rejection, Ibibio was to remain
unwritten and unofficial for decades until 1983, when with
the sponsorship of an Ibibio cultural organization, Akwa
Esop Imaisong Ibibio, an orthography was produced and
presented to the Ministry of Education of the then Cross
River State of which the present Akwa Ibom was a part. The
orthography, edited by this author, was officially approved
by the Ministry of Education and in -a letter MOE/COM/IA
Vol. X/482 of 12th September, 1983, the then Commissioner
for Education, Professor E.J. Usua, directed that Ibibio be
taught in all schools in what is now Akwa Ibom State using
the orthography as the standard one. Ibibio is probably the
only l^guage so far in Nigeria whose orthography has been
designed and produced by the owners of the language
themselves. The orthographies of the other languages, inclu-
ding those of the major languages, have been produced by
either expatriate missionaries or government agencies.
Essien, Okon E, 1990. A Grammar of the Ibibio Language.
Ibadan, Nigeria: University Press Liinited.